Date of Award

Spring 2-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Dr. Sherrie Wisdom

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephen Sherblom

Third Advisor

Dr. Shelley Dugle


This study explored perceptions of Public Relations (PR) among graduate higher education publics regarding distance learning as contrasted with face-to-face learning contexts. The research questions assessed student, faculty and administrator perceptions of characteristics of PR: trust, communication, quality, respect and rigor. Participants included students and professors who had experienced both online and face-to-face learning, as well as administrators from two private universities. The larger of the two schools was in the Midwest region of the United States, and at the time of this study, was relatively new to online instruction. The smaller school was located in the Southeast region and offered an established online instruction program. Survey responses were collected from 69 students and 108 faculty, staff, and administrators. Out of those surveyed, six students, seven faculty, and six administrators were interviewed. Furthermore, I interviewed three human resources administrators from educational establishments who had experience hiring people with graduate education degrees. In addition, I analyzed student evaluations of courses taught both online and face-to-face at the smaller university. Following completion of qualitative coding of interview data, examination of numeric descriptive trends within survey responses, and analysis of course evaluations, the findings revealed overall positive perceptions with strengths identified in online communication, respect, and rigor and weaknesses in trust and quality. Recommended improvements included strengthening academic integrity efforts through the consistent use of anti-plagiarism software and implementation of a rigorous culture of ethical enforcement. There is also a need for proactive provision of professional development for iii online teaching to provide the most student-efficient distance learning environment. Additionally, results of this study indicated a need for restructure of student evaluations of teaching to ensure assessment of the unique dynamics of online coursework. The significance of these findings is two-fold: First, the data can potentially help university administrators effectively connect with internal and external publics and possibly foster collaboration between administration, faculty, and PR staff. Secondly, the insights reported from the analyzed data may be useful in rationalizing institutional beliefs and subsequent needs when writing departmental or institutional strategic improvement plans.


Copyright 2014